Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin is facing some liberal pushback in his effort to be the next leading Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Durbin (D-Ill.) is the second highest-ranking Democrat on the influential panel. No. 3 in command is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who is also interested in running Judiciary for his party.
“In the wake of Ranking Member Feinstein’s announcement, I look forward to the question of succession on the Senate Judiciary Committee being decided by the caucus. I will abide by the caucus’s decision,” Whitehouse said in a statement after Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she would step down.
Feinstein framed her decision as a way to better focus on specific policy areas for her state, but came amid near-universal party consensus against her leading the influential committee.
Ahead of the 2020 election, multiple progressive groups had called on Democrats to remove Feinstein from her powerful position if the party retook control of the Senate.
The 87-year-old lawmaker faced party-wide condemnation for her handling of the hearings for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination last month, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) refusing to defend her conduct.
Like Feinstein, Durbin has served on the powerful committee for decades. Leaders have the ability to confirm or deny judicial appointments and have oversight authority over the Justice Department.
Durbin announced his intention to seek Feinstein’s leadership role on the committee one day after the California senator said she would step down.
“We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work on undoing the damage of the last four years and protecting fundamental civil and human rights,” he said in a statement.
While Durbin likely has a leg up on Whitehouse because of his seniority on the panel and ranking in the party, Whitehouse has some in the party behind him.
“Nothing personal against Durbin, but with Feinstein stepping down, I think there’s a need for some new blood and new style and approaches. Sen. Whitehouse could breathe some new energy into the committee,” Faiz Shakir, who managed Sen. Bernie Sanders’(I-Vt.) 2020 presidential effort, told Politico.
Durbin being in party leadership and chairing a committee is not prohibited by Senate rules, but the party is showing some openness to discussing whether the power could be more evenly distributed amongst the lawmakers.
“There needs to be a discussion. It’s clear we have a lot of great talent in our caucus and voices that need to be heard and used in leadership so we can be as effective as possible,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the No. 3 Senate Democrat told the outlet of the issue on the Judiciary Committee.